“The body or the face?” the loan shark’s muscle asks, a droll query from a guy with a square jaw and a fist like a cinder block. The clear implication is that, no matter the choice, it’s gonna hurt. A good outcome is no longer an option.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the place sports’ governing bodies go to when they’ve failed to govern effectively, might as well be giving pro cycling a choice between the body or the face right now. With a verdict coming in the appeal of Alberto Contador’s non-sanction for Clenbuterol doping, it’s important to recognize that, no matter the outcome, cycling’s gonna take a haymaker.
The 30 second version of the story is this: Alberto Contador tested positive for Clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France. The Spanish cycling federation (RFEC) opted not to suspend him. The UCI and WADA appealed that decision to CAS based on the WADA code of strict liability, i.e. that the athlete is 100% responsible for what goes into his or her body. Simply stated, if there’s dope, they doped.
Let’s not go any deeper into this case and it’s details than that. The details and the extremely long timeline of events only serve to obscure the underlying truths here. (If you need to play catch up, Padraig has written about the case extensively here, here and here.)
CAS is going to do one of two things. They’re going to uphold RFEC’s non-sanction of the rider, or they’re going to impose the standard two-year suspension that every other rider who’s tested positive has received. The body or the face.
If CAS decides that strict liability doesn’t pertain to Contador’s case, then a long list of suspended riders are going to have a serious grievance against the UCI. Think of Tom Zirbel or Fuyu Li, for example. Neither of those riders ingested a substance that anyone would argue helped them to win races, but they both served their suspensions. Strict liability, morally nettlesome as it may be, has been the law, so the possibility of CAS somehow striking it from the books, at least from a judicial point of view, will be bad for pro cycling. If an “I didn’t mean for it to be in my body” defense is allowed to stand, it then becomes open season, not just for Clenbuterol positives, but for any adverse analytical finding that might be attributed to contamination.
If, on the other hand, CAS follows precedent and suspends Contador, then we’ll have to vacate the results of two Grand Tours, the 2010 Tour and the 2011 Giro, not to mention a whole host of individual stages and smaller, albeit not-insignificant, races. There will be history books to correct, riders to promote, prize money to redistribute, legends to be recast. Because of the stature of the rider, the damage to the sport will be massive, complicated and long-term. The sport’s reputation, which already sucks, will get worse. Sponsorships will be affected. People not named Contador will lose money and opportunities.
There is a third way, I suppose. The CAS could take a hybrid approach, crafting a sanction for Contador that takes into account the minute amount of Clenbuterol that appeared in his system, but still pays some respect to the strict liability rule. Quite what that would be is hard to imagine, and if not a full blow to head or gut, still a stinger for a sport already on the ropes.
In fact, news out of Paris this week suggests that the CAS is not confining itself to issues of strict liability, that a partial examination of Contador’s tainted beef excuse IS being aired, and that the levels of Clenbuterol, minute by all accounts, are playing in front of the tribunal. If the CAS only concerns itself with the amount of the substance and its net effect, rather than possible reasons for its presence, we are likely headed for acquittal and all the fallout such a verdict will cause.
After all, these are the issues that have been examined ad absurdem by the UCI, WADA and RFEC over the last two years. “Did he dope?” is a different question than, “Did the doping help him win?” None of the answers are good ones.
The Contador case, as most in modern professional cycling, has gone on and on and on. The temptation to see the CAS verdict as a resolution is strong, but given the possible outcomes on the table, we should expect this mess to continue on for years to come. Shortly, we should know what the consequences are for Contador. The body or the face. But pro cycling is a long way from paying its debt to this particular loan shark.
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The Spanish Cycling Federation has determined that Alberto Contador is innocent of doping charges. The four-member panel hearing the case elected to rule based not on the presence of Clenbuterol in his specimen, but on article 296 of the UCI doping regulations that stipulates:
If the Rider establishes in an individual case that he bears No Fault or Negligence, the otherwise applicable period of Ineligibility shall be eliminated.
The important verb here is “establishes.” It’s not quite “proves” but it’s a fairly high standard. Article 22 states:
The UCI and its National Federations shall have the burden of establishing that an anti-doping rule violation has occurred. The standard of proof shall be whether the UCI or its National Federation has established an anti-doping rule violation to the comfortable satisfaction of the hearing panel bearing in mind the seriousness of the allegation which is made. This standard of proof in all cases is greater than a mere balance of probability but less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Where these Anti- Doping Rules place the burden of proof upon the License-Holder alleged to have committed an anti- doping rule violation to rebut a presumption or establish specified facts or circumstances, the stan- dard of proof shall be by a balance of probability, except as provided in articles 295 and 305 where the License-Holder must satisfy a higher burden of proof.
Today, there is only one cyclist on planet Earth, and he’s suspended. Unless you’re dead, you’ve read the story. The Spanish cycling federation has proposed a one-year suspension for Alberto Contador, subsequent to his positive clenbuterol test from last summer’s Tour de France. The rider can appeal the proposal, though who knows what that means, and he has vowed, through his spokesman to fight any sanction.
This week’s Group Ride asks the obvious question: Has Contador been treated fairly?
David Garcia received a two year suspension for an EPO positive at the Vuelta, as the rules stipulate he must. Assuming Contador is guilty (which the UCI and Spanish federation must believe he is) is Garcia’s offense worse than Contador’s?
Of course, EPO isn’t found in beef, as a matter of course, but the anti-doping codes don’t seem to differentiate between substances an athlete has to buy on the black martket versus substances that might be ingested in food or supplements.
Callum Priestley, a young English hurdler, was recently suspended for two years on the back of a Clenbuterol positive. Like Contador, he blamed tainted meat, consumed in South Africa, for his adverse finding. The English didn’t care.
And of course, there’s Li Fuyu, the Radio Shack rider who was suspended for Clenbuterol in the spring of 2010. He too claimed contamination. The UCI didn’t care. He’s out for two years.
On the other side of the ledger, Italian Alessandro Colo of the ISD-Neri team, also tested positive for the stimulant at last year’s Vuelta a Mexico, and he attributed his positive to eating contaminated meat in Mexico. Italian officials gave Colo a reduced, one-year sentence.
To my mind, Contador’s actual guilt seems secondary to the discussion. At this stage, it can seemingly neither be proved or disproved. What remains are the positive tests and the rules governing them.
We might argue that the rules could/should be changed, but that doesn’t get to the issue of whether or not Contador has had a fair shake. Clearly, the process that has brought us to this point in the story has been drawn out in a singular way. None of the other suspended athletes named here had so long to mount a defense or were given the option to respond to a “proposed” ban.
One might believe, however, that the protracted nature of proceedings has actually hurt Contador worse than an expeditious ban.
We leave that all to you though.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International